Ten-City Initiative a Step toward Solving Air Pollution

BOSTON, Mass.—Mayor Martin J. Walsh recently announced that Boston will join the City Energy Project (CEP), a new venture with the Institute for Market Transformation, National Resources Defense Council, and ten cities (including Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando, Houston, Kansas City, and others), to reduce energy usage and curb greenhouse gas emissions used by their cities’ buildings.

In Boston, the CEP will support the outreach and implementation of the city’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) and its Renew Boston energy program’s large-building strategy, efforts that the Walsh administration say could “save the commercial sector hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs in the next 10 years.” The CEP will provide personnel to implement BERDO’s requirement for all large buildings to rate and publicly report annual energy and water usage to improve resource management.

“We are proud to partner with the City Energy Project as well as the other world-class cities participating in this important initiative,” Mayor Walsh said in a press statement. “Last year, Boston was ranked the most energy-efficient city in the United States, and we know that through collaborations like this one, we’ll continue our progress towards being an even greener, healthier city with a growing economy.”

Boston already has a Climate Action Plan, begun by Mayor Thomas Menino, which delineates the city’s plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. An updated version of the plan revealed that Boston’s buildings produce over two-thirds of the city’s emissions. The ten-city plan hopes to cumulatively cut five to seven million tons of carbon emissions annually, which is equivalent to taking more than one million passenger cars off the road per year.

In an interview with Spare Change News, Laurie Kerr, Director of the City Energy Project, discussed other cities’ success stories, “One example is NYC, which has reduced its citywide carbon emissions by a remarkable 19% since 2005. Much of this is due to fuel switching from coal and oil to natural gas at power plants and from oil to gas for building boilers. But energy efficiency has definitely played a role.”

Many Boston residents have concerns over carbon emissions in the city. Activist groups like 350MA, Sierra Club, Better Future Project, Coal Free Mass and Green Dorchester have been vocal in their opposition to coal-fired plants like Brayton Point, the Keystone Pipeline and general air pollution, and the effects it has on environmental health.

Stefanie Valovic, a member of Planet Southie, an activist group working toward creating a “greener” South Boston, said, “Early action from the Walsh Administration, such as the City Energy Project, is encouraging. However, this is a systemic issue that can’t be solved by a few initiatives. We need cross-cutting changes. Boston needs to do more than make a good action plan, it needs to effectively and swiftly implement the plan. We’ve seen poor implementation of some of the goals of the first Boston Climate Action Plan, such as the commitment to plant 100,000 trees in 13 years, a project that seems to have stalled.”

She continued, “We believe Mayor Walsh could secure his place in history as a climate champion, leaving a legacy of enduring policy and systems change — he could be the first mayor in the nation to build only clean renewable energy infrastructure. We need Boston’s mayor and the administration to pressure Governor Patrick to do the same. The City needs to make climate change mitigation and adaptation a priority within public health and economic development structures — climate should not be silo-ed as a “green” issue.”

Planet Southie partnered with Renew Boston to promote the Energy Action campaign, founding Neighborhoods for Climate Accountability, an alliance of Boston neighborhood groups. They made climate a top priority in last year’s mayors race, initiated a community-wide conversation about alternative transportation and formed action teams to address transit, walking and cycling issues. They also work with Mothers Out Front, a constituency of Boston-area mothers calling for a fossil fuel-free, clean energy future.

Environmental health appears to be a growing concern. The World Health Organization released a report in October saying that particulate matter and air pollution are carcinogens. The report makes it clear that pollution in Boston could be increasing asthma and cancer rates to the area.

Anna White, a Planet Southie and South Boston MOMS Club member, said, “I have three urban children and all three of them have asthma, which I’m not sure they would have if it weren’t for urban pollution.”

When asked about her experience with increased health issues due to carbon emissions, Kerr said, “Asthma is not directly related to greenhouse gas emissions, but there is an indirect correlation since the burning of fossil fuels also releases pollutants which trigger asthma attacks.”

In a discussion about the environmental health impacts of the future as climate change progresses, Kerr explained, “The increased incidents of heat waves, droughts, severe storms, etc. are definitely in line with the climate change predictions. So the deaths in Europe and Chicago from recent heat waves, and the deaths in New Orleans and the Philippines due to severe storms may well be previews of the kinds of severe and widespread health impacts that we could expect to see if carbon emissions are not curbed.”

Casey Harvell of the American Lung Association mentioned that Boston is in a position to take the lead in the efforts to clean up the air. “From Massachusetts being the number one ranked state on energy efficiency to new initiatives like the one Boston just announced, we are taking a stand on achieving our 2020 goals as outlined in the Global Warming Solutions Act, many of which will improve air quality.” Because specific cases of lung cancer vary, Harvell did not feel comfortable saying the ALA had seen specific cases caused primarily by air pollution in Massachusetts.

“I think the Ten-City Initiative is a great step in improving air quality. Since many greenhouse gases are produced by energy plants, reducing the need for energy is one of the best ways to reduce pollution. Given the success Massachusetts has seen in energy efficiency, I am hopeful that with Boston addressing housing and buildings, we will see even more dramatic reductions and improvements,” she said.

More than half of the carbon pollution in major cities comes from energy used in buildings. Cutting that energy use would reduce the emissions and air pollution generated by power plants, resulting in cleaner air.

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